11 December 2009

Ah, Motherland

Razing the Servile State VI

Whenever I deny in conversation that we have collective duties (as I did here), I'm usually told, "Now, surely you agree that some things, like the education of our children, are so important as to be publicly funded." In fact, I don't. As I've said, we have no children; society has no children. The state has no children to educate. I have children; you have children. Your children are yours to educate, and my children are mine to educate. The fact that we are encouraged to think "we" have children to educate leads me to believe that something other than education is the agenda. It is this other agenda that turns me off to the idea of public education.

Language differences notwithstanding, public education can no doubt work if limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic. We can even add elementary principles of geometry, the natural sciences, and the principles of our system of government (maybe!). The difficulties appear when we go farther than these. Teaching turns into indoctrination because it is not feasible to represent to children (including adolescents) all the aspects of a problem and to let them choose between dissenting views. (It isn't feasible because of the number of dissenting views on contentious issues. Trying to cover them all, even if one wanted to try, adds to the time it takes to get an education, and, for that reason, the cost. It also is not feasible because those whose children are being educated in all of these dissenting views, will either not want their children to receive instruction in all these dissenting views or not be satisfied that all views are receiving equal allotments of time.) Moreover, it is not very easy to find teachers who can teach views with which they disagree in a way which would satisfy those who hold such views. When it comes to these contentious matters, the party operating the schools is in a position to promulgate its views and to disparage all others. In many, if not most cases this usually results in lawsuits, as, for example when parents don't want their children to read the Bible -- even as literature -- or about Heather's two mommies or Mike's two dads, or when parents don't believe any theory but some form of Darwinism counts as "scientific" and sue schools to keep out the teaching of creationism or intelligent design.

If all education were private, there would be none of these difficulties. And yet, we are still encouraged to believe in the superiority of public education. This wouldn't be so bad if private schools (and home schoolers) were left alone, and the public schools required to demonstrate their superiority by creating a better "product". If private schools and home schoolers were left alone, it would be difficult to attribute ulterior motives to public educators. But there are some places where private schools and home schoolers are subject to severe burdens, burdens so heavy as to lead one to believe that the purpose is to drive them out of operation. Some of the methods are well disguised, I must say. For example, H.J. Res. 29, introduced 3 March 2009, proposes an amendment to the Constitution which provides that all persons shall enjoy the right to a public education and that Congress shall have the right to enforce this provision through "appropriate" legislation. That seems innocuous, even generous, until you realize that (unless we're talking about university education) everyone who wants a public education can already have one; or, we should say, everyone who wants a public education for his child can have one. One must wonder, therefore, what can be the purpose of such a constitutional amendment? Why, to keep parents from violating their children's rights to a public education! Let us note that the amendment does not seek to protect rights either to a private education or to a home education, but rather a public one.

This is nothing new, really. In the introduction to his Christianity and Liberalism, Gresham Machen mentioned a law in the state of Nebraska which forbade instruction by means other than English, as well as the teaching of any language other than English (12). "The minds of the people of Nebraska...are to be kept by the power of the state in a permanent condition of arrested development." He also mentioned a 1922 Oregon law requiring all children in the state to attend public schools, thus wiping out of existence all private schools in the state. At the same time in history, a New York state law provided that, "No person, firm, corporation or society shall conduct, maintain or operate any school, institute, class or course of instruction in any subjects whatever without making application for and being granted a license from the university of the state of New York to so conduct, maintain or operate such institute, school, class or course" (13, n. 2).

All of these state and federal actions assume that the state has some interest in your child's education. But to say that the state has a vested interest in your child's education is just to say that your neighbors have this interest. How is this? How can your neighbors assert a right to peer into, and exercise any control over, the education of your children, without the assertion, on some level, of ownership of your children? In a certain sense, it's not really as bad as all that. I daresay the vast majority of your neighbors don't really care, as long as your children aren't causing trouble. But in an important sense, it really is as bad as all that because it's really a matter of some of your neighbors, as private citizens, thinking they, as private citizens, have a vested interest in your child. And the state is simply the means they employ of managing this interest. These are people who, in contrast with people like me, don't believe you and I have children: they believe you and I have their children. Oh, they may do a lot of talk about "our" children, but they mean theirs; they just don't want us to know it. If you stop listening to them and pay attention to the laws they want passed, or the laws they succeed in having passed; if you pay attention to what they do when they have their children eight hours per day -- by their deeds you should know them. And their children are theirs to educate. They believe the state has, as someone recently explained to me (with a straight face), a "vested interest" in our children.

A "vested" interest in anything, much less our children? I was unable to ask this person if he even knows what it means to have a "vested" interest, but it can have one of two possible meanings (neither of which were specified for me in this brief conversation). In the legal sense, to have a vested interest means that one has a right, even title, to a thing, and, along with it, the right to dispose of the thing (sell, transfer). The important element is the element of interest: I'm not sure people who use the phrase "vested interest" really know precisely what it means. Interest is a general term, employed to denote a right, claim, title, or legal share in something. When used in reference to lands or real things, the term is used in connection with other terms such as 'estate,' 'right,' or 'title.' More importantly, for my purposes here, it means a right to have the advantage accruing from something, or someone. We're talking about a property right. How does the state (really only just some of your neighbors) come to have a right, claim, title, or legal share in your children? (The aforementioned person told me that it's just a matter of settled law, as if that is an explanation. Slavery used to be a matter of settled law, too. Abortion presently is a matter of settled law. So, I don't think talk of "settled" law really, well, settles anything.)

In a non-legal sense (e.g., in communications theory) it means that the education of children has consequences such that the state is affected. Since the state is the means by which some control others, what this really means is that some of your neighbors think that your child's education so affects them as to give them a say in it. They have an interest in the out-come of your child's education, so they get a say in it. It escapes notice that, since everything we do really affects just about everyone else (or has the potential to do) this argument is actually one which justifies totalitarianism.

Now, whether these people use "vested interest" in the legal sense or the non-legal, the notion should make us a bit uncomfortable. Either the state has an ownership claim upon our children, which is to say that some of our neighbors have this claim; or the state (i.e., some of our neighbors) has an interest in the outcome of our children's education. Whichever it is, we should ask how this interest came to be. We might ask, with regard to the legal sense, who has done this "vesting". I think we'll be told "we" did. And because "we" have done, our children are basically theirs and they will decide what their children are to learn, when, and how.

The point of public education is, and always has been, the control by some of the education of all. And this notion of a "vested interest", the mutual ownership of each other implied in use of the terms "we", "our" and "us", is another one of the dogmas of our own servile state. And when our ancestors first bought into the idea that education was such a good as to be provided at "public" expense, they laid the first cobble stone for the road to universal health care; for if education is that great and important a good, then health care is much more such a good. The same justifications are used for both.

So, the answer is, no, I don't think education is such a good as to be provided at public expense. The state does not have a vested interest, legal or otherwise, in our -- not their -- children's educations. And believing it does only empowers the servile state further.

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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